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Displaying a doll’s house

The Horniman Study Collection Centre (SCC) is always a hive of activity and this month has been no different. Our industrious curatorial team are busily highlighting objects for potential redisplay in the near future. Our job at the SCC is to make sure they are packed for transportation, properly documented (including being marked with their unique number, photographed and measured) and ready to go to the museum for conservation and mounting prior to display.

One such object (and I say ‘object’ loosely) is a lovely dolls house which was last on display in the 1980s. Our curators have been researching the doll’s house and it is a fascinating mix of periods and styles, including some unusual parts dating to the 1850s.

On first inspection the doll’s house contents numbered about 150 pieces but on further investigation this wasn’t the case. In order for us to track every part of the house, we needed to ensure that every individual part had a separate number so that we can record the location of all of the tiny pieces. This is particularly important with display objects, as quite often all of the parts may not be on display at the same time.


On completion of the documentation, we now know that the doll’s house has over 400 parts, all of which have an individual record and photograph on Mimsy (our database).

Our next job was to make sure it was packed well. Many of the tiny parts are incredibly fragile, just imagine a tiny set of wine glasses and decanter. Therefore good packing, particularly as we know it will have to be transported to the museum, is essential. For the particularly fragile parts, we cut out individual homes for them in plastazote:


Hopefully in the near future the doll’s house will be on display in all its glory where you can discover all the wonderful objects for yourselves at the Museum.

If you are interested in our work behind the scenes, check out our tour of the Horniman store


I love Museums

The Museums Association launched their I Love Museums campaign, an online campaign for museum visitors, users and lovers to show their support for museums.

Museums are, ultimately, about people. There is no one type of person who vists a museums and there is certainly more than one reason to visit. This campaign gives you, the people who these museums are for, the chance to say why.

Discovering the Horniman Aquarium

'Museum' the word and idea came from the Greek museion meaning seat of the Muses (nine inspirational goddesses who were the gospel singers in Disney's Hercules). Museums used to be contemplative philosophical spaces, it was not for many years until objects were displayed in these spaces.

Performing arts, part of the Horniman's Nature Late event

Now, museums are vibrant and varied. Here at the Horniman, Victorian taxidermy is displayed next to contemporary art, and hand's on craft sessions take place in stunning gardens with live music playing. There's no one way of defining a museum and there are loads of reasons to love them so please let us know by clicking here.

Here are some of your responses so far:


The Horniman horses

We were recently visited by Livingstone and Finsbury, four legged members of the Metropolitan Police Mounted Branch. The horses (and others) donated 7 tonnes of manure to the Horniman Museum and Gardens that we have used on our Plantastic Gardens.

Inspector Katherine O'Brien commented that although "Police horses might seem unlikely gardeners" they were very pleased to see manure, that would otherwise go to waste, being used.

The horses helped us with our Planting for Pollinators garden which was planted in April. This bed contains species that will be very attractive to bees and butterflies when in bloom.

Wes Shaw, Head of Horticulture here at the Horniman, pointed out that "horse manure is an excellent way to provide great food for plants". This pop-up garden will look fantastic when in bloom, with Californinan Poppies, Fairy Toadflax and Cornflowers creating a beautiful display overlooking the London skyline.


Our Plantastic Gardens will be blooming throughout the summer and you can also visit our Plantastic exhibition within the museum.

Pictures taken by Sophia Spring.

Donation of manure made possible by Veolia Environmental Services (UK) plc.

The volunteering experience at the Horniman

One of our newest volunteers is Bobby Ogogo. Bobby has a visual impairment and over the past few months he’s been helping us test out how blind and partially sighted people can deliver object handling in the galleries. He’s normally in on Wednesday afternoons, so stop by and say hello!

Bobby spoke with Beth, Youth Volunteering Co-ordinator, about his experiences  volunteering at the Horniman:

“The Horniman Museum is very nice and friendly. You can help each other with the objects. It is hard when it’s dark because they can’t switch the light on. Some people can’t see anything so when it’s dark it gets all blurry.

  “In my first week I went to the Access Advisory Group – I was speaking to staff about good lighting and not good lighting. In the second week I learnt object handling. I played with some toys and bells and learned listening, smelling and playing, and to be careful. After that, I have been in the gallery. I liked all of it but object handling is my favourite – I can be gentle with all the objects.

“My dream museum is a nice, light, colourful place. I’d have objects like toys, instruments – anything I can play with. Some museums have nothing to touch. I’d have sound and stories – but not on headphones. Headphones don’t help sometimes because you can’t talk to people at the same time.

 “I learned listening skills and talking to people; meeting and greeting skills. It was absolutely busy – I’ve never seen it busier. I’ve enjoyed it but I wish it was quieter!

“I think volunteering at the Horniman is good. I feel confident about it. I’m getting used to stroking [the ferret] with two fingers. I was asking so many questions – What is it made of? How does it feel? Hot or cold? Where does it live? How does it move?


Gardens Festival

This Sunday we will be holding our third, yes third, annual Gardens Festival as part of the Chelsea Fringe show.

We will be hosting music, art and gardening in abundance, let’s just hope the weather remains sunny.

The London Vegetable Orchestra

Music will be provided by the London Vegetable Orchestra and their array of pumpkindrums, cucum-trumpets and carrot-corders, as well as Marcelo Andrade performing music from his new album African Tree.

Marcelo has performed with many artists from around the world and performed at numerous Jazz festivals internationally. His album African Tree, encapsulates his international work by including 70 different musicians form 5 continents.

Marcelo Andrade

Gardens and gardening are the main themes of the day, so members of our learning team will be making miniature gardens complete with diddy deckchairs, birds and benches . We’ll also make seedbombs, a speedy way to distribute seeds in hard to reach sites and make prints using sun-paper and flowers.

The events start from 12 and run until 4, the galleries and exhibitions (including Plantastic) will be open for you to explore as well.

Plantastic Gardens

Preparations are coming along nicely for our Plantastic garden displays.


Sunseekers will be a mass planting of sunflowers in the bed opposite London Rd. We are growing around 1400 plants, 700 Helianthus ‘Prado Red’, and 700 Helianthus ‘Prado Yellow’.

Seeds were sown in April by our fantastic volunteers Irene and Ewa, who did a great job sowing them all in individual pots. One week later the seeds began to germinate with approx 90% success rate.

They are growing nicely and will be planted when they are about 10-12 inches in height and able to withstand attack from the Horniman Squirrel Brigade who take great delight in pulling up all our newly planted plants!

If we get a good summer I expect to see them flowering through June, July and August.


Sunflowers in the nursery

 Our specially designed carpet bedding display Anatomy of a Flower will depict the cross section of a dissected flower giving victors a chance to learn about basic flower structure. Kevin is currently building the raised circular bed for the display in the small garden opposite the cafe outside seating area; the plants will be delivered and put together like a giant jigsaw in the last week of May.


Plants for Pollinators will see the transformation of the large empty bed on the bandstand terrace into a glorious riot of colour with flowers that will attract lots of pollinating insects.

The hardy annual seed mix was sown by the team in April, and they are just starting to germinate a week later.


Andrea and Ian divide seed mix up so they can apply it evenly over the bed


Andrea and Ewa sowing the seed by hand

All three displays can be seen throughout the summer months, we hope you enjoy them.

3D models of Horniman objects

For the past few months, we've been 3D scanning objects from our collections and elements of our building's architecture. Today we are introducing these 3D models on Sketchfab, a website for displaying and sharing 3D content online.

The 3D scanned objects come from across our internationally important collections of anthropology, natural history, and musical instruments.

We've worked with a volunteer, Thomas Flynn, to scan the objects from our collections and some architectural elements from our building. Objects - some of which can be seen below - include the Horniman's model of a Dodo, a large taxidermy eagle, an ornate communal pipe and the Horniman's iconic clocktower. More will be added over the coming weeks.

We believe our collections and the stories they tell are hugely inspiring, and we've seen how artists and more have responded to them over the years. We hope these 3D models of our collections will continue to inspire a whole new generation of makers in exciting ways, and are looking forward to seeing what they create.


Taxidermy Eagle by hornimanmuseum on Sketchfab

Meerschaum Pipe For Five Smokers by hornimanmuseum on Sketchfab

The Horniman Clocktower (3/4 Scan) by hornimanmuseum on Sketchfab


The 3D models are available to download from Sketchfab and can be used by 3D designers and enthusiasts for non-commercial projects. To see the full range of models, visit Sketchfab.

Mud Kitchen Fun

The families at our first Mud Kitchen (for children aged 5 and under)  in April had fun playing at making mud pies and other tasty treats which included a birthday cake, with twigs for candles, and a mud pizza with extra grass topping.

If you’ve never been to a mud kitchen before you might not know what to expect. There are only two essential ingredients: earth and water, everything else you can improvise.  

A mud kitchen can be set up in any outdoor space, with old pots and pans or plastic containers; small tables or even old milk crates to use as mixing stations and access to some water.  Don’t worry if you don’t have an outside tap, we used a rainwater butt which we filled with water and had more than enough for over 30 families.

Having fun playing with earth and water is probably one of most people’s earliest childhood memories. That’s not always the case for children today so we thought we’d bring back some messy fun for families in the Horniman Gardens; with the added bonus for grown-ups that they didn’t have to clean up afterwards (thanks to our great volunteers).

The children had fun pretending to cook their mud pies in our makeshift oven, experimenting with measuring and mixing as well as practising their pouring skills.  The adults had an important part to play too, advising their little chefs on which decorations to use on their creations – beautiful daisies and dandelions growing in the grass - rather than our Gardeners’ prized flowers.   

Families were able to drop into the mud kitchen anytime between 11.00 am and 12.30 pm on the Friday morning.  Some stayed for a short time to make one or two ‘cakes’ before heading off to enjoy some non-pretend food at our cafe.  Others were so engrossed in creating their masterpieces,that they stayed for the whole session.  It was great to see everyone, both adults and children, having so much fun outdoors and getting closer to nature.

If you want to join in the fun, and encourage your children to explore nature and enjoy playing outdoors then come along to one of our Mud Kitchens over the next few months.  They will be running monthly from May – July, check the website for further details, but be prepared to get messy!

Lewisham Healthy Walks

May is National Walking Month and a great time to get out and about with better weather and summer on its way. Here at the Horniman Museum we host Lewisham Healthy Walks - part of an NHS initiative to get people outdoors, keeping fit and healthy and socialising though friendly, local walking groups.

Every Thursday a lovely friendly group of people meet at the Horniman to take a leisurely walk around the gardens.  Many regular members of the group live locally and have grown up in and around Forest Hill and are big fans of the Horniman Museum and Gardens.

Although some people might be put off by the steep hills, this is exactly the reason that makes the Horniman Gardens so popular with the Healthy Walkers. Walking up the hill makes this particular walking group a bit more like hard work, but a great way to get exercise!

Once a month the Museum hosts a ‘tea and talk’ for group members after the walk where the Healthy Walkers get to meet staff from behind the scenes at the Museum.  Highlights over the past year for the group have included find out all about corals with Jamie, our aquarium keeper, learning about conservation with Charlotte and Julia in the conservation labs and having a tour of the library with Helen and Gill, our Horniman librarians.

As well as the beautiful display gardens, the walkers often venture on to the Horniman Nature trail which is a world away from the hustle and bustle of London, yet just hidden away at the bottom of the gardens.

Although the group is open to all to join, many come to it for health reasons referred to by their GPs. 

Nina wanted to share her story:

"I was diagnosed with heart failure in January 2007.  Following medical treatment I had an 8 week exercise, nutritional and lifestyle course at Lewisham Hospital.  After this I attended active heart sessions and have continued these at Forest hill Pools.  A friend of mine who had been a leader told me about Lewisham Healthy Walks and I did try Ladywell Fields and Wells Park but having been to Horniman Park I decided this was the one for me.  Starting on the flat and then a steep incline it seemed perfect.  I liked the idea of group walking with a trained leader to look after us.  The discipline of regular walking and the social contact benefit s health and wellbeing (I mean making friends!) After many years I still enjoy it, seeing the changes through the seasons and all weathers and the changes in the park.  It also links into my memories of the park and museum with my parents and siblings.  Plus, mow we have monthly sessions at the end of the walk with a cup of tea, biscuits and fruit, but more importantly talks from the education staff which are always interesting.  Thank you Horniman Museum and Park and Jenny Budd."

Nina Gray-Lyons


Contact Jenny Budd the Healthy Walk Coordinator for Lewisham for more information about their programme of walks across the borough: Telephone 020 3049 3485 or email jenny.budd[@]nhs.net

Find out more about Healthy Walks at www.wfh.naturalengland.org.uk/walkfinder

And more about National Walking Month at http://www.livingstreets.org.uk/

A Maori Wero in Gallery Square

On the 12th of March, during Museum opening hours, Gallery Square was its usual busy blend of orientating school groups, parking prams and escaped toddlers.

At 5:30 the space lay silent and empty, cleared of the last visitor and interrupted only by the occasional late-working member of staff cutting across it on an errand. 

Two hours later Gallery Square was alive again, full of people listening intently to an orator, who speaking in the Maori language welcomed them as hypothetical members of another tribe, inviting them to make peace with him and put aside conflict.

 Singing as part of the powhiri

The orator was a member of Ngati Ranana, London’s Maori tribe, which has been in existence in different forms since the late 1950s.

Along with seventeen other members of Ngati Ranana he was at the Horniman to conduct a powhiri welcome ceremony. He was also about to witness a wero or challenge, performed by Maramara Totara, an organization of martial artists who fight with taiaha, perhaps the most iconic of Maori weapons.

 The wero

For the event in Gallery Square the Museum took a step back and we let our Maori guests steer things. As well as explaining the significance of the powhiri and wero, Ngati Ranana brought the audience into their ceremony, including them in their songs and speeches and, most movingly, greeting individual audience members with the hongi, an embrace in which a newcomer is welcomed through the pressing together of noses and the sharing of a breath.

 The hongi

Ngati Ranana and Maramara Totara briefly transformed Gallery Square into a place full of Maori significance and meaning. It was especially wonderful that our Maori guests shared this meaningfulness, generously taking in everyone present and embracing them as fellow tribesmen and women. 

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